Monthly Archives: September 2010

Henry IV


The closing moments of Shakespeare’s Richard II: the death of Richard and rebellion against the new king, Henry IV

On this date in 1399 Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV of England after deposing Richard II.

Frye on Shakespeare’s Richard II and 1 Henry IV:

Richard II was, we said, written entirely in verse, the reason being that the action is centred on what is practically a ritual, or inverted ritual: the deposing of a lawful king and the crowning of the successor who has forced him out.  At the beginning of Henry IV, the hangover has set in.  Bolingbroke, realizing that there is nothing worse for a country than a civil war, has determined at the outset to get started on a crusade.  The idea, we said, was partly that God would forgive anyone anything, even the deposing of an anointed kind, if he went on a crusade.  But even more, an external enemy unites a country instead of dividing it.  Shortly before his death, Henry IV tells Prince Henry that when he becomes king he should make every effort to get a foreign war started, so that the nobles will be interested in killing foreigners instead of intriguing against each other and the king — advice Prince Henry is not slow to act on.  But at this point the new king’s authority is not well enough established for a foreign war, much less a crusade.  Henry finds that there are revolts against him in Scotland and Wales, and that many of the lords who backed him against Richard II are conspiring against him now.  So Henry IV contains a great deal of prose, because this play is taking a much broader survey of English society, and showing the general slump in morale of a country whose chain of command has so many weak links.  Falstaff speaks very early of “old father antic the law,” and both the Eastcheap group and the carriers and ostlers in the curious scene at the beginning of the second act illustrate that conspiracy, at all levels, is now in fashion.  (On Shakespeare, 69-70)

“It’s not the policy, it’s not the policy, it’s not the policy”


This footage was taken last week after John McCain successfully sabotaged the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a hypocritical and mean-spirited setback for gay rights in the U.S.  But the video seems to be going viral for reasons you’ll see for yourself as McCain, assailed on all sides by aggressive questions from journalists, goes bananas.  There follows an interview with a discharged air force major who puts the lie to McCain’s assertion that “it’s not the policy” to search out and discharge gay service members.


“Women Making Music” (Date unknown)

Today is Tintoretto‘s birthday (1518-1594).

I’ve noticed while trolling for Frye quotes how interesting it is to see who or what he’ll mention in passing to make a larger point, as he does here with Tintoretto.  It’s always easy to get the measure of Frye’s genius in bulk; but there is a particular pleasure in picking it up in the tiniest detail.  And, in a pleasant bit of serendipity, the larger point of the quote below nicely complements the painting above.

Once we have understood the self-imposed limitations of Elizabethan music and realized that its whole spirit is domestic and intimate, that it is Marvell but never Milton, Vermeer but never Tintoretto, Jane Austen but never Tolstoy, we shall accept it for what it is and not indulge in evolutionary reveries. . . We have dropped [the notion of evolution] in literature: we no longer say that poetry has “improved,” that Dryden found it brick and left it marble, or that Pope or Tennyson or anyone else represents centuries of “development.”  We know now that poetry never improves; it only alters.  But musical criticism, owing to the illiteracy of most musicians, has a way of lagging a century or two behind literary criticism, and while the general outlook of Lives of the Poets is dead, that of Johnson’s friend and contemporary Dr. Burney is still alive.  Hence it is generally accepted that everything in Elizabethan music is a crude and unformed beginning of what later composers progressively improved on. (CW 25, 168)

Quote of the Day: “Oceans have long memories”


BBC report on the melting of the Greenland ice sheet

This week’s Rolling Stone has a devastating article on the almost unbelievable rate of melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.  Here’s a particularly hair raising excerpt:

In the past few years, scientists have begun to worry that the world’s glaciers have entered what they call a “runaway feedback mode,” in which the dramatic changes to the water and wind and ice caused by global warming have not only accelerated but have themselves begun to alter the climate, creating a dynamic that could be irreversible. Both Antarctica and Greenland are now losing ice at twice the rate they were in 2002 — as much as 400 billion tons each year. In July, after the planet’s six warmest months on record, a giant crack opened up overnight in the Jakobshavn Glacier; for the first time ever, scientists monitoring satellite data were able to observe in real time as an iceberg covering 2.7 square miles broke off and floated into the sea. Three weeks later, an even larger iceberg — four times the size of Manhattan — cleaved away from another glacier to the north of Jakobshavn, stunning scientists who study the ice sheets. “What is going on in the Arctic now,” says Richard Alley, the geoscientist at Penn State, “is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done.”

Scientists say that oceans have long memories. The water reflects the slow-spreading response to events that took place a month, a year, a hundred years ago. An earthquake in the Arctic. A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. A particularly strong El Niño summer, a decade and a half in the past. These memories are not all known, and their physics are not perfectly mapped, so the movements of the oceans are not well understood. “The ice sheet,” Bindschadler says, “really is just the tail of the dog.” There remains the chance that cutting carbon emissions might, in the long term, prevent more warm water from getting into the Amundsen Sea, where it is melting the ice shelves. If the atmospheric system really does have dials, in other words, then perhaps they can be turned to more comfortable settings. “That may be the saving grace,” Bindschadler says. But even if we reduce emissions, he warns, there is no way to get the heat that is already in the ocean, melting the ice, back out.


Richmond Street Methodist Church, Toronto, 1867

On this date in 1867 Toronto became the capital of Ontario.

I haven’t found the source yet, but I know for sure Frye once dryly observed of “Toronto the Good” during the 1930s: “A good place to mind your own damn business.”

On the other hand, Toronto at its best seems, for Frye, to be a touchstone for the cosmopolitan society Canada appears determined to become.  From “Canadian Culture Today”:

When I first came to Toronto, in 1929, it was a homogeneous Scotch-Irish town, dominated by the Orange Order, and greatly derided by the rest of Canada for its smugness, its snobbery, and its sterility.  The public food in restaurants and hotels was of very indifferent quality, as it is in all right-thinking Anglo-Saxon communities.  After the war, Toronto took in immigrants to the extent of nearly a quarter of its population, and large Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Central European, West Indian communities grew up within it.  The public food improved dramatically.  More important, these communities all seemed to find their own place in the larger community with a minimum of violence and tension, preserving in their own cultures and yet taking part in  the total one.  It has seemed to me that this very relaxed absorption of minorities, where there is no concerted effort at a “melting pot,” has something to do with what the Queen symbolizes, the separation of the head of state from the head of government.  Because Canada was founded by two peoples, nobody could ever know what a hundred per cent Canadian was, and hence the decentralizing rhythm that is so essential to culture had room to expand.  (CW 12, 518)

William Empson

Today is William Empson‘s birthday (1906-1984).

Frye in one of his notebooks on romance:

Empson’s book on ambiguity suggests, though it doesn’t explore the implications of the suggestion, that the difference between a positive & a negative idea often disappears in poetry: his example is “Drink to me only,’ which contains both the expressed postive & the logical negative of the same idea.  This is connected with something I read in Vendryes’ book on language, though I noticed it myself.  If in poetry you say it’s a hot day because no cool breezes [are] blowing you summon up the image of cool breezes rather than heat.  “Sinless” tends to convey the idea of sin rather than innocence (wonder why there are so many “-less” words in Kubla Khan).  On the other hand you can use this trick to suggest what you wish were there, & dodge overemphasis on heroic moods by descibing things negatively, as Chaucer does with the funeral of Arcite [in The Knight’s Tale].  I thought that all imaginative traditions begin by overcoming the split in the world of subject & object: the Lankavatara Sutra suggests that the real split is between being and not-being, close to Blake’s vision-analogy business, or rather Generation-Ulro, than the cloven fiction proper.  Thus it speaks of those who assert that the bull has horns because they are attached to the notion that the hare has no horns–a profound and witty remark.  Hence this question of positive-negative simultaneity may apply Blake’s doctrine of art to a profounder cleavage in experience that he applies it to.